Will has lots of money and no life experience. Marcus has no friends, no money and no hope of being rescued from his slide in social exile. Fiona is a depressed hippie, trying to raise a 12-year-old son in North London. They meet because Will decides single mothers are an as yet untapped resource. They actually end up having quite a good time together.
This is the first Nick Hornby I’ve enjoyed (see my thoughts on High Fidelity and How To Be Good). He uses very different characters from the other two, which were replete with emo 30-somethings struggling with life. In this novel, Will has no struggles, Marcus is all struggle but is twelve (and excellently portrayed, I thought), and Fiona is depressed and really struggling – but crucially Fiona is never the narrator.
I do find it a bit odd that Hornby’s novels are consistently and unrelentingly set in Holloway. Clearly I’m not cool enough to live there and to get the in-jokes.
All the spare characters were well-developed and witty as well – Rachel, the beautiful single mother with the homicidal son; Ellie, who worships Kurt Cobain and adopts Marcus; Clive, Marcus’ absent father, and Lindsey, his dappy new girlfriend (and her omnipresent mother!). All of the characters are a bit crazy, but just on the right side of believably crazy – unlike the extras in How To Be Good.
The premise is bizarre – a single man, rich from the royalties of a single song his father wrote, goes in search of partners at a Single Parents’ Therapy Group… and Marcus tries to feed a duck a whole loaf of baguette in one go, with disastrous consequences. All of it stays just on the credible line, which makes it funny but somehow never quite laugh out loud funny.